England takes notice of California’s poet laureate: Dana Gioia on the BBC


“I don’t want to be a visiting celebrity. I want to be a catalyst,” says California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia. The Book Haven has already discussed his efforts as poet laureate here and here, but it’s nice to see his work getting international recognition. He’ll be on the BBC tomorrow, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. California Time (PST). The program, called “a radio road movie,” will be available shortly after broadcast.

From the BBC website:

When Dana Gioia was appointed Poet Laureate of California in 2015 he was invited to read in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. But Gioia believes the role is to encourage poetry throughout the state. He has a mission: to visit every county in the state of California.

There are 58, stretching from Del Norte 1,000 miles south to Imperial, bordering Mexico; from the Sierra mountains and redwood forests to the desert; densely populated Los Angeles (almost 10 million) to almost empty Modoc (fewer than 10,000); with established communities from Mexico and Europe joined recently by people from the Far East.

Everywhere Gioia is joined by other poets and young people participating in Poetry Out Loud. For nine years Gioia was Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. One of his initiatives was this nationwide competition for young people to memorise and recite poems. It is astonishingly popular.

40-odd counties in, producer Julian May joins Gioia to create a radio road movie for Radio 3. Gioia reads in a pub yard in Mariposa, an old gold-mining town, while humming birds dart and hover. A few days later Gioia hears of a huge wildfire coming within a mile of the wooden town. In a library in Madera, roasting in California’s central valley, a woman from Peru recites a love poem in Spanish. In marches a squad of lads – military boots, buzzcuts. They are from the juvenile hall youth correctional facility. Each, says Officer Martinez, can recite a poem by heart. There is an event in Turlock, settled by Assyrians, another in San Diego near Mexico and, in his home county, Sonoma, Gioia appears at poetry event in a vineyard.

All this, and more, in ‘Every County in the State of California’, a radio road movie.

It airs tomorrow morning, October 1, at 10 a.m., California Time (PST). You can read the press release, too, here.


3 Responses to “England takes notice of California’s poet laureate: Dana Gioia on the BBC”

  1. Jeff S. Says:

    Good for him! Glad to see his activism getting the attention it deserves.

    My other half is a high-school teacher here in Maryland. As we get more settled in the community, we’re hoping to get Poetry Out Loud up and running locally someday. In the meantime, she’s starting to give her ninth-graders opportunities for informal recitations and readings that build on formal instruction and discussion that many of us didn’t get until college, if ever. It’s neat to see–but I dearly wish we had a Maryland version of Dana Gioia.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Perhaps you could get the real one to come and visit.

  3. Jeff S. Says:

    I’m sure he’s (rightly) swamped with California business, but if he should someday wander into our little corner of Maryland, there’s a ninth-grade teacher who’d welcome him into her classroom…